Birdwatching: More Popular Than Golf or Fishing Among Americans

Keel-billed Toucan in front of my Merida home

Birdwatching is more popular than golf or fishing north of the border, where one in 20 people engage in the activity, but in Mexico it’s not so big. However, considering the huge number of species there are (specially in the Yucatan), there is great potential for birdwatching as a visitor attraction.


Mexico’s many species of birds make it great for birding 


The Mexican Secretariat of Tourism could learn a lot from the way Birdwatching is managed in the State of Texas, for example.

In the “Lone Star State”, there is a lot of birding action in the panhandle area where visitors can witness the spring migrations, while in Mexico birders congregate in the wetlands, cattle ranches and shoreline of the Laguna Madre, in Tamaulipas, to witness the mass migration of feathered friends winging it northward.

Cinnamon Hummingbird inspects Altamira Oriole nest for insects
Cinnamon Hummingbird inspects Altamira Oriole nest for insects (Cherie Pitillo)

During the spring months in particular there are specialized birding tours all along the lower Texas coast, in the Rio Grande Valley and also in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. For birding opportunities closer to home, it’s a good idea to Google “Birding” in Laredo or McAllen, Texas. Both border cities feature annual birding festivals and ecotours throughout the year focused on birdwatching.

On the Mexican side birding is not so widely commercialized but excellent ecotours are offered that specialize in watching the feathered visitors on the beaches (plovers), in the wetlands (the stately heron) or in semi-arid open places (the wily roadrunner).

Whether on the U.S. or Mexican side of the border, spring means wonderful weather, a spectacular array of wildflowers and probably some of the best birdwatching anywhere. Thousands of birds are migrating at this time of year.

One ecotour company based in Austin, Texas, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, features spring birding tours beginning in Corpus Christi, Texas, then to the Rockport wintering area of the impressive Whooping Cranes and breeding grounds for a number of species of herons, egrets and shorebirds. It is also a stopover point for countless migrant shorebirds and land birds alike.

The tour includes traveling the iconic King Ranch to the Rio Grande Valley, home to 24 tropical species of birds whose U.S. range is restricted to this area. For the aficionados the list includes the Red-billed Pigeon, Ringed Kingfisher, Pauraque, Great Kiskadee, Green and Brown jays, White-collared Seedeater and Altamira plus Audubon’s orioles.

Yucatán must promote a birding culture in the Maya villages
Yucatán must promote a birding culture in the Maya villages (Cherie Pitillo)

The tour concludes in the scenic Texas Hill Country, haunted by the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo. The tour promises the possibility of identifying 250 different species of birds, plus lots of wildflowers and plants as a bonus.

Mexico is the nexus positioned at the ornithological crossroads of North America, sharing along the border with the Lone Star State one of the richest avifauna regions in the world. Mexico is the connection between the deciduous forests of the far north with the tropical jungles of the southern continent. The flyover of thousands of different bird species at this time of the year is really exciting and an unforgettable experience.

Mexico has 1,040 different species of birds, of which 125 are endemic and approximately 400 cannot be found in the U.S. or Canada. In fact, Mexico has more species of birds than the U.S. and Canada put together.

Front view of Blue-winged Teal
Front view of Blue-winged Teal (Cherie Pitillo)

Every winter in December there is an official activity known as the Audubon Bird Count. It is a day-long sanctioned event that takes place in Kingsville, Texas. Birders from all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico participate as the birds wing it south.

Then in May, International Migratory Bird Day is celebrated as migratory birds return north to their nesting grounds after a winter in the tropics.

Gray Hawk
Gray Hawk (Cherie Pitillo)

With the recent growth of ecotourism in Mexico birdwatchers have the opportunity to visit many more places than they could before. Birdwatching could yet become as popular here as it is north of the border.


By Richard Poynton

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Photos: Cherie Pitillo



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